Anatomy of a Family Case

The first document (also called a pleading) filed in a case is a Complaint or Petition.  This document tells the court what the case is about and what you want the court to do for you (for example, grant you a divorce or give you custody of a child).

Form pleadings are available in paper form at the courthouse and on-line.

Pleadings must be filed in the Clerk’s office.  Generally, there will be a fee for filing the first document in the case.

Limited assistance is available to litigants who are representing themselves through the Self-Representing Litigant Project.  If your case is complex or has multiple issues, you should consult with an attorney.  If you cannot afford an attorney, you may be able to get one for free based on your income and the availability of attorneys. Visit Resources page for more info.

After a Complaint is filed with the Clerk’s office, they will send out a document called a Summons.  This is a paper that informs the other party in your case that you have filed a case and that they have a certain number of days to respond to your Complaint.

Your case cannot go forward until the other party has been notified that you have filed a case.  You must notify them by serving the Summons and a copy of your Complaint on the other party.  Service can be accomplished in a variety of ways. When the other party has been served, you must let the court know by filing an Affidavit of Service.

After the other party in your case has been formally served with Summons and Complaint, they have the right to respond to what you said in your Complaint.  This document is called an Answer. If both parties agree on everything in the Complaint, and there is nothing for a Judge or Magistrate to decide, the case is uncontested and will be set for a simple hearing. If there are things that the parties want to court to decide, the case is contested.

If the other party does not answer the complaint within the time specified in the Summons (30 days if they reside in Maryland), the person who filed the Complaint may wish to ask the court to find the other party in default.

A default can be granted after proper service, sufficient elapse of time, and failure to file an Answer. A proper request must be filed with the Clerk’s office, proof of proper service must be filed, and an Affidavit must be submitted that provides detailed information about the other party’s military service. If a default Order is signed, the other party has 30 days to ask that the default be vacated. If they fail to do so, the case automatically gets set for a final hearing. Forms People's Law Library

If there is conflict about children, the court may order attendance at an educational seminar. At the seminars parents receive vital information about the effects of family conflict on their children. Children between the ages of 6 and 15 may be ordered to attend a separate Children’s Seminar. Parenting Education

At the Scheduling Conference, the parties meet with a Magistrate.  The Magistrate will help the parties narrow down the issues and assess the case for needed services.  The Magistrate will also assign dates for the rest of the significant events in the case (i.e., Pendente Lite Hearing, Court Ordered Settlement Conference, Pre-trial Hearing, Trial on the Merits).

In a very limited number of cases, the Magistrate may send the parties to meet with student mediators provided by the University of Baltimore School of Law. Visit Resources page for more info.
If there are allegations of substance abuse, the Magistrate may refer one or both parties to the Social Services Coordinator (SCC).  The SSC will schedule the parties for an Addictions Assessment and will set up random drug screening for the parties. Visit Resources page for more info. PLEASE NOTE: parties are responsible for finding testing resources and paying any accompanying costs.

The Magistrate may refer the parties to the Adoption and Custody Unit if there are allegations that require records follow-up and/or home studies. Visit Resources page for more info.
The Magistrate may refer parties to the Medical Services office of the court for psychological testing, in-depth custody evaluation, and/or supervised visitation. Visit Resources page for more info.
At the Court Ordered Settlement Conference the parties will meet with an experienced member of the Family Law Bar to make a last attempt to facilitate a settlement prior to trial.  The conferences are set for 1 hour on either a Tuesday or Wednesday.  Settlements are immediately put on the record and the parties may not be required to report for the trial on the merits.

The Magistrate may set a Pendente Lite hearing if there are emergency issues that need to be resolved prior to the Trial on the Merits (for example, temporary child support, temporary custody, etc.).  A Pendente Lite is not set for every case.

About a month prior to trial, cases with extremely complex issues may be set for a hearing before the Judge who will try the case.  The conference is set so that the Judge can insure that everyone is prepared for the upcoming trial.

At the trial on the merits, a Judge or Magistrate (depending on the nature of the case) will make a final decision about all issues in the case.  

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100 North Calvert Street Baltimore, MD 21202
Phone: (410) 396-5188
Business Hours: 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Map & Parking

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Phone: (443) 263-8706
Business Hours: 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Map & Parking